Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thoughts on Cynicism, Skepticism, and Thinking for Oneself

Being both a cynic and a skeptic, and an enemy of authority and received wisdom(unless it comes from my mother), I have no doubt that if a psychiatrist cornered me he would accuse me of having been born with Oppositional Defiance Disorder, that Stalin-esque mental condition outlined in the new Psychiatric bible.

These days I breathe in information from every sort of authority, and I exhale doubt.

Do I believe in our government, that pack of buffoons of both parties? Those earnest Mr Smiths, those earnest Ms Smiths who go to Washington to change things and become themselves the greedy and the changed- Do I doubt that at some point even the shiny armor of Elizabeth Warren will be pierced by corruption?

Hell, no. Henry Adams, who knew Washington and its disorders, said that a friend in power was a friend lost. I say that a new representative sent to that city is a Senator or Congressman lost. Lost, and compromised.

Let us ignore our government. God knows it ignores us. Let us speak no more of it-

Do I believe in any experts? In those who guide us through the everyday? Through the mundane. Through matters ornithological,horticultural, or culinary?

Not much more than politicians.

Let us take the case of the frozen free range chicken I had in my freezer for a year.Before this chicken became a half price Manager's Special at Kroger, it was one of those stress free, happy chickens living the rural high life. That provenance made it worth 16 dollars, though not to Kroger shoppers, who must be as skeptical as I am-

I forgot this chicken, then when I remembered it, I was dismayed. Was it still good? Was it worth cooking?

I consulted Mr Harold McGee, the Mr Science of cooking, and the news was bad. I had missed the edibility window by 9 months. At first I was tempted to toss the bird, but I hate waste, and there are many hungry raccoons, possums, and cats out on my porch.

I simmered it in a pasta pot till it disintegrated drained it, then decided to taste it.

An hour later some of the best of the white meat went into a chicken salad with grapes and pine nuts, and what a good salad it was. Mr McGee was in error.

I was not surprised, for I learned early that experts could be wrong.

I was reading a book about birds, and the author was describing the Pileated Woodpecker, a huge, startling bird not easily overlooked. "This shy bird of the deep woods" I read, and I knew then he was either a liar, or repeating someone else's error. I will be charitable, and assume it was the latter.

For, on many days, as I sat in a class so dull I cannot remember its subject, I looked out the second story window of the old Charlestown, New Hampshire Junior High School, and saw a pair of these woodpeckers nesting in an elm along the main street of the town.

And horticultural experts are not much better. Oh, how they mislead, especially when they team up with the US government and the Zone map that tells us what will not survive a winter here.

How many places have I read the Middle Tennessee gardeners need to dig up and store canna roots over the winter.
This is news to most Nashville gardeners, and news to the cannas, which happily spent the winter underground.

(To those who do not know what a canna is I will explain. It is a plant with banana tree sized leaves and showy flowers. No matter how tall you are or are not there is a canna variety that can look you in the eye.)

I admit my examples are small ones and I am certain if you live a more exciting life than I(which would not be hard),
you can think of ones much bigger!

Yet I must end this by saying that there are experts I do listen to, though they are not certified but are merely wise. My old supervisor, Mrs Mary Burroughs, once told me that there are three sides to every story.

Your story, my story, and what really happened. I hold this truth to be right up the with Occam's Razor.

Right up there with the words of a respiratory therapist extraordinaire named Mike, who once told me the ultimate truth in American life-

"Betsy, 99% of all paperwork is never seen again".

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